A Valentine’s Day Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Brenda,

It’s me–a much older you. And today is Valentine’s Day.

Your beloved Bradley has spent the morning and some of the afternoon on this holiday of romance cleaning the pool, fixing some electrical boxes, and other odd jobs around the house.

And you’re okay with that.

As a matter of fact, you don’t feel slighted at all.

For after 28 years of marriage, you’ve learned a few things about true love.

I know that right now you feel a bit disappointed if he doesn’t make you “feel special” on certain holidays. (Remember that birthday when he had to work and you stayed home and did laundry–and cried because it didn’t “feel” very birthday-like at all?) You’re over that.

Today won’t have cards.

Or chocolate.

Or jewelry.

Or a romantic candlelit dinner for two.

Today–a Saturday–will have chores (you did laundry), perhaps a little relaxing conversation later (after he finishes preparing for a memorial service he’s officiating on Monday), followed by a Valentine’s Banquet at church. (I know you think those aren’t “very romantic” right now–but you’ll get over that, too.)

Besides, he did run out this morning to the market to pick up some coffee beans just for you!

Besides, he did run out this morning to the market to pick up some coffee beans just for you!

You and Bradley have walked through a lot in 28 years. As a matter of fact, you’ve covered the downside of the wedding vows.

“…for worse…”

“…for poorer…”

“…in sickness…”

You even walked victoriously in Christ through the temptation of “…forsaking all others…

And, boy, have you learned.

Well, first you have learned that you didn’t have a clue when you stood before God and witnesses and uttered those words. In vain, did you think that those times wouldn’t–couldn’t–enter such a love story as yours. Surely you thought your marriage would consist of all the betters and richers and in-healths that a true romance could hold! (By the way, you may want to focus on understanding the true love found in God’s Word more than watching the fake romances playing out in movies. Just a hint.)

But certainly you have learned that the richest part of your lives and marriage has come simply because you did walk through those rough times.

You’ve learned that “worse” is only as bad as an un-Christlike attitude.

You’ve learned that “poor” is only a condition relative to an ideal.

You’ve learned that “in sickness” allows God to humble you so that you can give as well as receive love with joy.

And you’ve learned that fidelity is a godly choice that you get to make–and that sin doesn’t lie in the temptation, but in the choosing of sin. (And you don’t.)

So don’t get discouraged or disappointed, dear one, if certain holidays don’t “feel special.” Or if Bradley happens to let you down in that area. (After all, he is an imperfect man, o imperfect woman.) Focus instead on learning to serve him with joy. Don’t examine too closely the things he does or doesn’t do. For in reality, the greatest joy in your married heart will result from spending your days (all of them, not just certain holidays) considering and acting on how to serve as a blessing to him–your very, very beloved Bradley. Your true love.

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant aroma and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

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Lavish Love

This past week we celebrated a highlight of the homeschool year: Teacher Appreciation Day. Yep. True. My son just waits and waits to honor me on this day. Okay. Maybe not.

In spite of my mild delusions about its significance, my husband and son did want to do a little something to make me feel special, and to show me that they are grateful for the extended time and painstaking effort I put into educating the heir of the patriarchal throne. Therefore, after a mild brainstorming session, they alighted upon two simple and sweet gifts to make my day and melt my heart: coffee and a potted plant.

Thus, in the middle of the afternoon, my beloved unexpectedly arrives, winsome smile upon his handsome face and delightful gifts cradled in his strong hands. A newly-roasted bag of some delectable beans, accompanied by a freshly brewed pour-over, along with a lovely light-pink argyranthemum plant in a gorgeous sage-green glazed pot. (Not an indoor plant, which I kill with quite regularity, but an outdoor plant which he will tend for me!)

A pot of lavish love

A pot of lavish love

After he left, I lay back in bed fathoming once again just how “spoiled” I am. My husband knows how to bless me with the simple things in life. After all, how can the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of coffee or the gentle smile of a daisy not light the heart of this simple former-farmgirl? In that moment, I realized how much I want my daughter to marry a man who makes her feel “spoiled.” Not spoiled as in indulging her fleshly nature, but rather lavishly and extravagantly loved–for that’s the nature of Christ.

The love of Jesus knows no bounds. It reaches into the inner part of a woman’s heart and woos her with the sweet things that meet the needs of her unique personality. He loves with truth and integrity, not allowing her to bluff her way through with Him or with herself. He’s unexpected and delightful. He calls out of a woman the deepest and richest of her inner treasures. And He sprinkles her life with radiant moonbeams and starlight whispers of joy. In Jesus, a woman will find the fullness of her life.

In like fashion, a man who truly loves and honors God will find himself embodying that fullness of life for his beloved bride. He will learn her inner secrets–and treasure them. He will–to the extent of his finances–pour out lavish riches upon his wife (or future wife) simply to demonstrate how greatly he cherishes the mere thought of her. He will “spoil” her with all the extravagant love of Jesus in his heart.

This is what I want for my daughter. And for all my darling “adopted” daughters.

If you choose, my sweets, a man with lavish love, you will never fail to see the beauty of Christ’s love in your marriage. God’s ability to use this singular man as a conduit to open your heart will allow blessing upon blessing to flow out of the deepest reservoirs of your being into the lives of those around you.

Marry a man who “spoils” you.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17).

A Helpmate Suitable

For years I struggled with my ability to uphold the image of the “perfect wife.” Childhood abuse, the death of my mother, and my dad kicking me out at seventeen had all led me to stagger under the load of seeking perfection. Unattainable though it may have been, I could not relent on that inner desire to achieve this idealistic vision of myself. So I did what any other red-blooded, American woman would do; I bought magazines.

There on those fanciful, glossy pages I found tips to improve everything! Better organizing skills. Better decorating plans. Better housework tips. Better me. Which all boiled down to one thing: I obviously needed improvement. So I tried harder. Failed bigger. Despaired greater.

Stop.

Gasp for air.

Repeat cycle.

One day, though, God sent me the most lovely gift, wrapped up in Scripture, and simply waiting for me to open its life-giving freedom: the story of God’s creation of woman:

I love the Old King James' wording best: "a helpmate suitable."

I love this phrasing best: “a helpmate suitable.”

I love picturing those precious Bible stories, watching as the details come alive in my mind. In this story, I can absolutely “see” Adam spending wonderful time with His Creator and God. Their playful interchange as Adam views an ostrich or camel for the first time, or perhaps Adam’s awe when he meets a lion or elephant face to face. Possibly a dejected look crosses his face as he realizes that God had created each animal both male and female, yet for him…no, he had not female. He was simply man. Alone.

Then I see my God, already understanding that Adam desperately would need his female–his “like,” gaze lovingly and thoughtfully into Adam’s eyes, reassuring him that this need had not gone unnoticed. Out of all creation, God had already conceived in His mind how He would fashion a “helpmate suitable” just for Adam.

“A helpmate suitable.”

Just for Adam.

The loving reality of this idea struck out across my brain and penetrated deeply into my heart. God loved my husband as dearly as He loved Adam. In His love, God had given me to Bradley as assuredly as He had given Eve to Adam. All I had to be–ever again–was “a helpmate suitable” for my beloved! His match. His completion. His wife.

Breathing new life into my hungry, wifely soul, this truth rumbled straight across my being, leaving its freedom positively dancing across the landscape of my life. No more did I need to strive to be the perfect wife for every man; I only needed to be the perfect wife for MY man! The helpmate suitable for his needs, his personality, his design.

Out went the overexertion and despair. In came the joy and freedom.

Bradley’s wife. His companion. His “helpmate suitable.”

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” (John 8:32).

The Witness of True Marital Love

Not too long ago my daughter asked me, “How do you know if he’s the one?” She had no one in particular in her mind, but as a young lady of nineteen who has friends getting engaged and even married, she simply and honestly expressed her curiosity. I didn’t pretend to have all the answers to her question, but we had a lovely conversation as I reminisced about my earlier days with her dad. You know, back when we were young and in love, and not the old boring couple we are now. 🙂

I shared with her that I had experienced “crushes” before I met her dad, but when I met him I felt as though I had finally found my best friend. I wasn’t on the prowl or anything like that. He simply walked into my life one day like he belonged–and I hadn’t even realized he had been missing.

We enjoyed all the bliss of young love. Every moment we spent together was like a play date. He made all the ordinary in my life extraordinary just by his presence. This joy splashed over into our marriage and on into the family years. Except for a rough patch somewhere around year eleven, our relationship has exuberantly marched on–even in the face of ME/CFS.

Sadly this is not always the case. In an effort to find information regarding divorce when one spouse suffers from an chronic illness, I kept coming across the often cited statistic of 75%! (The National Health Interview Survey is the supposed source, but I personally did not locate their findings.) But still…75% of marriages involving one chronically ill partner end in divorce! My mind cannot fathom this. My heart cannot believe it. Yet, thus it appears so.

I know our marriage no longer depicts that original madly-in-love young couple who promised to love each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” I understand this cannot be what my beloved husband signed on for. What he imagined or dreamed. It certainly runs short of my estimations.

Yet we stood before God and witnesses, and each gave our word that we would remain committed to this marriage “til death do you part.” As a Christian, I have no alternative to my word. As hard as it may be at any given time, to not keep my word means to not reflect Jesus. And thankfully my husband deeply believes the same.

I feel for my husband, you know. He bears the brunt of keeping this oath more than I. He goes out in the world, sees all that it has to offer, and yet must choose commitment to me and his vows as his highest act. I esteem him greatly for this.

He generally sits in church alone, goes to our son’s games alone, shops for groceries alone. As a pastor, he meets the needs of others and then he comes home and tends to me. Am I thirsty? Do I need something to eat? Am I okay? Do I want to go for a walk? If he fails to notice a need or remember my rather invisible infirmity, I must offer grace. He is my beloved husband and a fellow servant of the Lord, who truly tries his best. And I honor him.

But as I consider his side of this marriage, I cannot help but think that perhaps the spouse of one who is chronically ill has the opportunity to stand as an even brighter reflection of Christ and His love for His bride.

So often our sinfulness pervades our life like an illness–slowly and steadily crushing the life out of our spirits. Yet Jesus stands faithful–never leaving, never forsaking. The bride He bought with His precious blood walks as a sad, faded image of the giddy young lover who promised Him faithfulness through thick and thin forever and ever. She has wilted, her response to His ministrations wanes dull. Yet He continues faithfully on–ever loving and tender. In this lays the truest form of love.

In the life and hands of a spouse of the chronically ill also lays the opportunity to display this same true love to a searching world.

Before I sign off for the day, I wanted to share with you a sweet story posted this past week on facebook by a dear friend. With Kris’s permission, I share with you one amazing testimony. Please read on:

Wedded Bliss

Planning a wedding. I googled it. About 133,000,000 results in 0.30 seconds. There are few that have not been overwhelmed by those words. It was either your own, your daughter’s or it will be.

This new year will bring about 2.2 million brides and grooms, beautiful pictures and a myriad of planning. Isn’t the blush of new love invigorating? Don’t you love to see the excitement of that young couple as they tie the knot?

Well, sometimes not. Who’s kidding who? Sometimes we cringe, knowing this couple might not be quite ready for the commitment they are taking on. Let’s face it: wedded bliss is sometimes not so blissful. It takes courage. Marriage is not for the faint at heart.

But when a couple does it well, it is truly a cause for celebration. I had a rare opportunity to see true married love not long ago. And I hope I never forget it.

It started with the text. “Shasta’s in the hospital. She has sepsis. Please pray” That was about it. Kyle’s brother had let us know his wife was in the hospital. Again. She had been on dialysis for six years. Renal failure had nearly taken her life six years ago and admissions to the hospital were not uncommon. But this time…

Later we found out that her liver had failed as well. Hepatitis as a child had started Shasta on the road to tenuous health many years before. She had recurring problems growing up, but that all seemed behind when she and Kevin tied the knot twenty-one years before. In sickness and in health…

Rocky. That would describe their early years. For most of their marriage, bliss was not the adjective of choice. The diagnosis of renal failure changed all that. When we would see the two together, there were no longer little digs at each other. The difficulties of chronic illness, the choice to embrace God in His fullness, and the commitment to their vows moved their relationship to a new level. It took on a new beauty.

While her spirit gained ground, the disease ravaged her body. We would visit and the earthly beauty that was hers at their wedding was gone. Aged beyond recognition, we would not have known her had Kevin not been the one to take us to her hospital room. But we watched over those six years a tender love emerge between the two. Refined by doctor visits, dialysis treatments and a rock bottom faith in the God of the Bible, their relationship grew beyond what we would recognize.

Now she was in liver failure. Her prognosis was not good. Weeks, not months. I went to help during the last week of her life and there God allowed me the most beautiful picture of wedded love. It was the last look, not the first. I didn’t have a camera, but the image is etched on my mind. Kevin was sitting next to her hospital bed. Nearly brown with jaundice, Shasta could hardly respond with words. He just sat looking at his bride stroking her thinning hair, his tender love obvious with each touch of his hand. She lay quiet, the usual grimace of pain gone as she gazed back at her man, smiling.

Beautiful love.

In memory of Shasta S. She went to be with the Lord December 9, 2012. She was 44.

Teary eyed? Me, too. But don’t you just see the beauty of true love demonstrated? Just like Christ loves us. Just like He longs for us to bear His witness.

Truly beautiful, unrelentless, faithful love.

“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

November 14, 1986

Twenty-six years ago I was honored to wed my beloved.

November 14, 1986

With both of our families rather money-strapped, we were a couple of poor young kids trying to pull off a wedding. Unable to afford the rental on our church’s sanctuary, we exchanged our vows in a lovely side-room at our church before a relatively small group of witnesses. Because each penny had to count, we did our best to replace largesse with significance. Instead of a large bouquet, for example, I carried three red roses symbolic of faith, hope and love.

Having grown so much in faith, however, I often wish I could go back and do certain things differently from that fretful hearted young girl: so young in the ways of the Lord, but thinking she was so mature. *sigh*

Regardless, though, I still love the simple vows I pledged to my beloved that evening:

Bradley, six months ago when you asked me to marry you, I said “yes” because I loved you. Today I love you even more, and as I stand here before you and God and these witnesses, I vow to you to be your wife. And as your wife, I pledge to walk hand in hand with you through the bad times and share with you the laughter of the good times. I will submit to you, respect you, believe in you, hope for you, and endure with you. I will always pray for you and trust in you because I will always treasure you and love you.

And just like our wedding held the flaws of naive mistakes, so has our marriage. And, unfortunately, it has also borne the scars of willfulness. In spite of all that, God has remained faithful to his children. Indeed, He has answered the heart of our prayers from the very inception of our union, “make us one that our marriage may be a witness of You.”

“…that they may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me.” John 17:21-23

And they lived happily ever after…for His glory.

How to Make God Chuckle

A little boy walks up to his mom and disgustedly announces, “I will never marry any stupid ole’ girl!” Suppressing her smile, the mom inquires, “Well, who are you going to marry?” “Awww. Doncha know, Mom? I’m going to marry you!”

You know why we find this amusing, don’t you? Because we sense that this son feels safe in his mom’s love, we also sense that he will indubitably grow up and marry a lovely young lady of his own. While his mom, with all her good-humor, realizes that, in spite of his determination to the contrary, her son would, in all likelihood, marry one of those abhorrent creatures called a girl.

But I think we also find this amusing because we see a touch of ourselves in the scenario. We petulantly cross our arms over our chest and tell our Father-God what we will not–never-ever, under any circumstances–do. I know. I have a list.

I will never live in a city. I made this at some indiscriminate time in my youth. Perhaps, as a rural girl, the thoughts of city life was intimidating. Not only did I go live with an aunt in a suburb of Chicago shortly after high school, but I have made my home in one of our nation’s largest cities since 1986. “Now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired,” (1 Corinthians 12:18).

I will never go to India. In my early career years, I worked under the supervision of a derisive Indian man. Unimpressed with how this man treated the women who surrounded him, I made my vow. Although I have yet to make my trip, God has graciously given me precious Indian friends, and I would welcome any opportunity to visit their homeland. “I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to Thee among the nations,” (Psalm 57:9).

I will never get married. Having never had the example of a godly marriage set before my eyes, I determined that it would be better to just stay single rather than face the hardship of a horrendous marriage. Not fully comprehending the joy that I was missing, I decided that being a single missionary was more my cup of tea However, after almost twenty-six years of a near-blissful union, I would venture to say the nail’s been hammered in the coffin of that attestation. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” (Ephesians 5:31).

I will never have children. You would think that after marrying the man of my dreams, I would wholeheartedly welcome the idea of having babies with him. Nope. I was frightened. Knowing that abuse tends to beget abuse, I was afraid that I would perpetuate the chain with my own children, and I would rather go without than bear that horrific burden. Thankfully, God understood my fear and tended my heart, so that by the time I read the results from that little at-home test I was truly thrilled to await God’s tiny gift of wonder. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward,” (Psalm 127:3).

I will never homeschool. I’m pretty sure I thought homeschooling was a little too “fringe” for me. I preferred to become obscured by normalcy rather than be one of those “weirdos.” When it became apparent, however, that our daughter needed assistance that could only come from someone lovingly committed to her, God brought my heart to be “all in.” I soon discovered an unexpected blessing, which I would not change for the whole world. I also found another way to honor God. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6).

I will never have a cat. I simply have no explanation for this. I didn’t want one. Our neighbor offered our kids a free one. I acquiesced. Story over. “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good, (Genesis 1:31a).

What may seem like a list of “nevers” is more accurately a record of my fears, willfulness and immaturity. Meanwhile, I thought I was being confident, mature and self-assured! Over the years, God has honed me, and I am very loathe to make a “never” statement. (I hate to eat my words!) It’s also an account of God’s graciousness toward me. Like a loving Father, He, no doubt, had to stifle His own little chuckle over my vehement assertions. But also, like a loving Father, He reached past my willfulness, taught me His truths, and helped me grow past my need to predetermine my own parameters. And I’m one thankful cookie.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

It’s Not “Okay”…I Forgive You

Many (many) years ago, Brad and I were very young, deeply in love, and newly married. One day a miserable tragedy struck–we had our first marital spat. I’m sure you can imagine our confusion and pain. I felt as though someone had maliciously pulled the rug right out from under our bliss.

Eventually the dust settled, tensions were resolved, and Brad (rightfully… *giggle*) apologized. I, of course, quickly uttered the most commonly used phrase from the Modern Confrontational Handbook: “It’s okay.” Except that, strangely enough, I didn’t feel “okay.” As a matter of fact, I still felt “off.”

Well, we both went on with whatever it was were doing, but I couldn’t get over how I was trying to make myself feel okay when I obviously didn’t. Finally, the answer dawned as clear as a summer morning. The correct response to “I’m sorry” must always and absolutely be “I forgive you.” The truth is that if an action or a remark is sinful, then it simply is not “okay,” and it must be forgiven. Oh, what a difference those little words make! Not only do they release the other from guilt, but they compel you to search your heart until you’ve come to terms with what might otherwise cause bitterness to take hold. And, unless you are completely at home with lying, you will not be able to say them until the forgiveness is alive in your heart and ready to be imparted.

Granted, there have been a couple of times over the years when they did not come easily or quickly. I remember one time in particular when Brad finally had to ask, “Aren’t you going to forgive me?” and I replied that I would…I just wasn’t ready. I needed to sort through and “put away” a few things in my mind first. And, sure enough, within a few minutes I had finished my processing and was unhesitant to say those immensely freeing words: “I forgive you.” Restoration complete.

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” -Ephesians 4:32